30 Apr 2010

Mini Reviews: Free Comic Book Day 2010

This Saturday, May 1st, sees the 9th annual Free Comic Book Day. Those unfamiliar with the event should head to the official site – here we take a look at an advance selection of freebies that should be available at your local comic shop on the day. Of course, those of you in the same catchment area as us should head over to Paradox where Andy H will have available not only the comics reviewed below, but many more besides!

Writers: James Robinson & Seterling Gates
Art: Eddy Barrows & J.P. Mayer
DC $0.00

Matt C: I gave up on DC’s Superman line (bar the excellent Superman: Secret Origin) when it started to get fully invested in the whole New Krypton deal – the concept just didn’t appeal. Free Comic Book Day therefore provides a great opportunity to catch up and see if War Of The Supermen, the month long four-issue event, is something I want to invest in. On this evidence I think I’ll wait until Straczynski takes over writing chores for the Man of Steel before I pick up another ongoing Superman title. While this is understandably heavy on the exposition (the aim being to attract new readers to the upcoming mini) it reads very flatly and offers an extremely formulaic confrontation between Kal-El and Zod. The dialogue is hackneyed and in the case of Clark, fairly out of character. Barrows art is okay, touching greatness in places, but an over reliance on the same front-on facial expressions for various characters spoils the impact. A bit of a yawn-fest unfortunately, incapable of generating the same level of excitement as last year’s Blackest Night #0. 4/10

Stewart R: DC seem to know how to get the best out of the timing of FCBD. Last year they led the field with Blackest Night #0 and this year they're working the calendar well by introducing the comic reading public to War Of The Supermen. The first half of the book brings the readers of Superman: New Krypton together with the slightly larger comic-reading population who may have no idea what Kal-El has been up to these past few months when he's not been busy being a Black Lantern. Having Zod as the major villain should ensure that a certain familiarity and broader appeal can be found for those who don't follow Supes on a regular basis, though of course this characterisation is a completely different animal to Terence Stamp's performance in Richard Donner's Superman 2. The art's a little iffy in places but I tend to think that's down to inker Mayer more than Barrow's pencils. The Lois Lane focused backup allows the audience to play catch up with associated events that have been taking place on Earth and all told this is a solid lead-in to this mini-event. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: John Romita Jr & Klaus Janson
Marvel $0.00

Stewart R: Where last year's effort by Bendis and Jim Cheung really blew me away and made for a terrific advert for what Marvel can do when they get the right people and the right ideas together, this year's big Marvel offering feels a little lacklustre and dare I say it, hurried. Plonking Iron Man and Thor together smacks of the marketing dial cranked to 11 seeing how Iron Man 2 conveniently hits the cinemas this week and Thor is due out this time next year. We've had nothing but adverts and news releases for 'The Heroic Age' over the past few months and instead of giving us a prelude to the new Avengers title due out soon this comes across as a throwaway one-shot that actually has me worried about JR Jr's artistic involvement in what will surely be Marvel's flagship title of the Summer. This certainly isn't Fraction's best either and I'm sure I won't be the only slightly disappointed reader. 3/10

Writers: David Petersen, Nichol Ashworth & Sam Humphries
Art: David Petersen, Jake Myler & Jeremey Love
Archaia $0.00

Matt C: Mouse Guard is really a thing of wonder. Brilliantly evocative tales centring around a colony medieval mice (think Lord Of The Rings without the magic and with anthropomorphic rodents instead of humans, hobbits and elves) it’s exquisitely rendered by writer/artist David Petersen. Not for everyone, of course, but I would recommend that people pay cash to check it out, so trying it for free? A no-brainer. The Fraggle Rock stories are fine, obviously pitched younger and not aiming for the all-ages market of Mouse Guard, and not half as witty as Boom!’s Muppet Show book. 7/10

Stewart R: Despite my growing knowledge and exposure to the comics industry, Archaia remains a publisher that I know very little about. I see Mouse Guard sat on the shelf in Paradox and I occasionally hover over an advert or piece in Previews but I've never got stuck in. I will say that that may be about to change as this delightful freebie - setting the scene for upcoming Mouse Guard: Spring 1153 - really drew me in. Writer/artist David Petersen delivers a captivating piece as the various Mouse Guard members go about their duties while we're guided through the thoughts of leader Gwendoline. The Fraggle Rock section is also entertaining though being a little lighter and aimed at a younger audience despite the retro appeal. I was very impressed with Jake Myler's art style in particular which took me back to the Fraggle comic stories published in the back of the old Muppet Babies comics of the mid to late 1980s if I'm not mistaken! Good fun. 7/10

Writers: Various
Art: Various
IDW $0.00

Matt C: IDW’s Library Of American Comics line has been producing collections of American comic strips from throughout the 20th Century since 2007, and if money and time were no object I would seriously considering snapping up a large quantity of their output. Characters like Dick Tracy and Rip Kirby, creators like Alex Raymond and Al Capp…. basically this is stuff that helped shape the medium and absolutely deserves to be preserved. This FCBD compilation only offers brief snippets of what’s available, but it’s enough to whet the appetite for more. If you’ve got an interest in comics history and you want to develop that interest a bit more, this sampler will point you in a few directions worth exploring. 8/10

Writers: Edmund Shern & Brandon Jerwa
Art: 'Puppeteer' Lee
Storm Lion $0.00

Stewart R: OK, this is a bit of a weird one. The main story 'Devolution' is a stylish and slightly clichéd tale of mech-conflict, hardened grunts and emotionless experimental soldiers. There's nothing terrifically new being done here but what is on show is a highly polished demonstration of nothing terrifically new. 'Puppeteer' Lee's muddy artwork adds to the atmosphere tremendously even if his style doesn't make it easy to pick out just what's happening in the action scenes. The rest of the comic - which I must say has top-notch paper and print quality for a free title - serves to highlight some of Storm Lion's potential future releases. A brief look around the Internet explains that Storm Lion - 20% of which is now owned by Radical Publishing - is a Singaporean media conglomerate who like to dabble in comics, film and general media, and I'm personally looking forward to seeing if they make a decent go at capturing a share of the market. Page 24, showing Skan's 'Breaking In' concept art has me very interested indeed. Funny how a single image can do that. 7/10

Writers: Andy Runton, James Kochalka & Christian Slade
Art: Andy Runton, James Kochalka & Christian Slade
Top Shelf $0.00

Matt C: Every year one of the main highlights of FCBD is a new short adventure for Andy Runton’s Owly. This year’s no different: the Owly tale is brief, but a delight. The Johnny Boo and Korgi stories don’t really do anything for me, and I while I wish Top Shelf would go back to the time when their FCBD release was 100% Owly, I can understand the reasoning behind the additions. Pick this up for your kids and then read it yourself. 7/10

Writers: Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Charles Paul Wilson III & Nicole Virella
Th3rd World Studios $0.00

Matt C: The Stuff Of Legend was the real winner from last year’s Free Comic Book Day. With the same kind of all-ages appeal of Mouse Guard, it mixes deeply rooted childhood fears with sharp storytelling and glorious art. Even if they didn’t pick up the first two issues of the book far more people are aware of its existence this time around, and I think this teaser for the second ‘series’ will convince many people to investigate further. The Mortal Instruments preview felt like it was aimed at the Twilight crowd, which is fine but I’m definitely not the target market for that kind of thing. 7/10

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Brian Hurtt
Oni Press $0.00

Stewart R: By far the most impressive and well-written FCBD title has to be this offering from Oni Press, The Sixth Gun, a mystical tale set in the Wild West where a mysterious female benefactor is rounding up several items of spiritual importance. Protagonist Drake Sinclair appears to be, at this early stage, the type of anti-hero we're really not sure whether to love or loathe and female lead Becky's traumatic introduction is sure to be a major point of interest. Brian Hurtt's simple panel layouts work very well, as does his similarly simple colour work, and this is very promising indeed. Definitely a case where giving me something for nothing could end up paying off for Oni Press in the long run. 8/10

Matt C: One major annoyance for me over the last couple of years of comic-buying is that I’ve been unable to get hold of the last issue of Bunn and Hurtt’s last collaboration, Damned: Prodigal Sons. I don’t even know if any copies made it into the UK and I’m not quite prepared to pay around ten quid to get one from the States on eBay. I’m hoping Oni will release a trade at some point. Anyway, based on what these guys did on the original Damned mini I’m always keen to check out anything new from them. This series hasn’t got as strong a hook as the gangsters and demons premise of Damned, and it does feel a little convoluted at points, but it’s atmospheric, the characters are interesting and the art’s really evocative (not sure if I prefer Hurtt’s stark black and white illustrations to his full-colour work though). There’s plenty of promise to make me want to come back for more, so Oni are probably onto a bit of a winner here considering this is something that would normally pass a lot of people by. 7/10

G.I.JOE #155 1/2
Writer: Larry Hama
Art: Agustin Padilla
IDW $0.00

Stewart R: G.I.JOE was my second comic love growing up, being found as it was as the backup strip to my first love, the Transformers UK comic. Since the US Marvel run ended in the mid-nineties with issue #155 the license has been passed around to a few publishers with varying degrees of success but IDW now seems to be the home that really cares about JOE and the possibilities that lie within such a rich and varied comic-book world. Fresh reboots and new ideas have been drawing in readers but this FCBD sees something special. Larry Hama has been allowed to continue on from where he left of some 16 years ago and brings us the true continuation of G.I.JOE's battle to prevent COBRA from terrorising the world. It's a true guilty little pleasure to see the characters depicted as they were all that time ago and as they will be if IDW and Hama really go for it and extend the much loved series. The art from Padilla neatly crosses that classic styling of the ‘90s with a fresh, modern appeal that I think could please readers old and new. Plus that cover shows how well breaking the fourth wall can work. 7/10

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